By Russell Berman - 10/01/13 02:45 PM EDT
Congress missed a midnight deadline to avert a shutdown of the federal government, as the Republican-led House and the Democratic-led Senate battled through the night on legislation to keep the lights on.
National parks and museums were shuttered Tuesday morning, and hundreds of thousands of federal employees remained home on furlough with no financing in place at the start of a new fiscal year.
“Unfortunately, we do not have a clear indication that Congress will act in time for the president to sign a continuing resolution before the end of the day tomorrow, October 1, 2013,” the memo said. “Therefore, agencies should now execute plans for an orderly shutdown due to the absence of appropriations.”
Senate Democrats on Tuesday rejected negotiating with the House on government funding, leaving no clear path for ending the federal shutdown that began overnight.
The Senate voted 54-46 to table a House request for a conference committee on a continuing resolution (CR), marking the third time that Democrats have voted down legislation from the lower chamber since Monday.
"The government is closed," Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said. "All over America federal employees are getting furloughs this morning … because of the irrationality that is going on in the other side of the Capitol."
Less than two hours before the deadline, House GOP leaders moved to set up a House-Senate conference committee, acknowledging that the two chambers had been unable to resolve their differences.
Debate on the motion had not ended when the clock struck midnight, and Reid said Democrats would not agree to a formal conference until the House passed its continuing resolution.
“The Senate has continued to reject our offers, but under the Constitution there’s a way to resolve this process, and that’s to go to conference and talk through your differences,” he continued, “and I would hope that the Senate would accept our offer to go to conference and discuss this so that we can resolve this for the American people.”
The House approved the conference committee at about 1:30 a.m. and in a brief appearance before reporters after the final House vote, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) made no reference to the government shutdown.
“The House has made its position known very clearly,” he said. “We believe that we should fund the government and we think there ought to be basic fairness for all Americans under ObamaCare.
Earlier on Monday, last-minute efforts to resolve the stalemate failed, as the Senate rejected multiple attempts by House Republicans to dismantle Obama’s signature healthcare law as a condition of funding the government.
Obama and Democratic congressional leaders demanded that Boehner allow a vote on a straightforward Senate bill to fund the government through Nov. 15. Under pressure from conservatives insisting he draw a hard line, Boehner refused.
Before that, the Senate rejected a House amendment delaying the entire healthcare law for a year, Boehner pushed through a second series of amendments to delay only the individual mandate and scrap subsidies in the law for members of Congress, their staff and political appointees.
Led by Reid, the Democratic majority in the upper chamber swatted down each House volley like a tennis player hovering at the net.
When the House sent a package of amendments across the Capitol shortly before 9 p.m., the Senate abandoned its usual glacial pace of legislating and voted to table the measure within an hour. Speaking at the White House late in the afternoon, Obama castigated the House Republican majority and vowed that he would not agree to undo the healthcare law in exchange for Congress executing one of its basic responsibilities: appropriating money for the government.
“One faction of one party, in one house of Congress, in one branch of government doesn’t get to shut down the entire government just to refight the results of an election,” Obama said. “Keeping the people’s government open is not a concession to me. Keeping vital services running and hundreds of thousands of Americans on the job is not something you ‘give’ to the other side. It’s our basic responsibility.”
Speaking to lawmakers, he added: “You don’t get to extract a ransom for doing your job; for doing what you’re supposed to be doing anyway; or just because there’s a law there that you don’t like.”
Obama reminded the public that enrollment for the health insurance exchanges would open as scheduled on Tuesday, even if the government shut down.
“We are in a very serious situation,” White House press secretary Jay Carney said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” adding that Republicans are engaging in strategies on the budget and debt ceiling that are “irresponsible and reckless.”
As Monday afternoon slipped into evening, Boehner showed no sign of letting up. He turned aside a centrist effort by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) to block amendments to the Senate bill from coming to the House floor.
King earlier in the day had said that as of Saturday night, between 20 and 25 Republicans were prepared to buck any new attempts to hold up the spending bill with extraneous measures. But when the vote came to the floor, just six Republicans defected, and four of them were conservatives who felt Boehner was compromising too much.
“I don’t want to continue to be a facilitator for both a disastrous process and plan,” he told reporters, summarizing his remarks to his colleagues in a private meeting Monday afternoon. He said he told members that “there are too many who are living in their own echo chamber.”
King joked that after he was done speaking, Republicans responded with “overwhelming silence.”
After the vote, King said Boehner had personally asked wavering members to back him. The Speaker’s message, he said, was: “Trust him. It will work out.”
Across the Capitol, Democrats held together to turn aside the House amendments and Reid turned increasingly acidic toward Republicans from the House.
“We are not going to mess around with ObamaCare, no matter what they do,” Reid said.
“They should get a life,” he said of House conservatives. “It is the law, declared constitutional. The exchanges are coming on board tomorrow.”
Obama called the four top congressional leaders Monday evening, but to little avail. Boehner mocked the president on the House floor afterward, mimicking an agitated Obama as he recalled his words, “I’m not going to negotiate. I’m not going to negotiate. We’re not going to do this.”
“Well, I would say to the president, ‘This is not about me,’ ” Boehner continued. “And it’s not about Republicans here in Congress. It’s about fairness for the American people.”
This story was posted at 12:00 a.m. and updated at 10:45 a.m.
Alexander Bolton and Bernie Becker contributed.